Monday, May 9, 2011

Understanding Enterprise Mobility

[I'm sitting at a Starbucks waiting for the GoogleIO registration to open up. There is an interesting session 'Taking Android to work' which I'll be attending. Google's approach to enterprise mobility seems to be different than Blackberry or Apple : they don't have anything baked into the platform. The GoogleIO session will hopefully provide more insights into the future path. If you are an attendee and interested in this topic, I would definitely love to have a chat with you. You can follow me on Twitter : @advantej ]

For the past few months, I'm trying to understand the enterprise mobility space. It had kind of existed in the past but emerging again with a new face altogether. Its definitely a larger wave than the earlier one.

A look into the past: 
Laptops introduced mobility into enterprise. There were cell phones before, but those weren't 'smart' enough. Their primary purpose was just to carry out conversations. Laptops made it possible to take the work with you. There was also a short period that showcased Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) which were rather bulky to carry around and capabilities mostly limited to managing your schedule, taking notes and some basic messaging. But the truly workable mobile devices were laptops.

The Enterprise Viewpoints: Two sides of a coin
The Good:
For enterprises, mobility means a lot. It is a means of growing business, capturing opportunities and bringing back information, knowledge, keeping the organization going on, no matter where the people in the organization are. Be it the CEO, CTO, marketing or sales people or any other management folks or your awesome engineers: mobility builds the necessary bridges whenever it matters to achieve the required goals.

The Worrisome:
However, practically this means accessing company resources from devices and environments on which enterprises may not have any control. While mobility helps enterprises grow the concern about information security in uncontrolled environments makes enterprises take a step back.

In the laptop/PDA wave, managing devices was pretty much conventional. There was nothing new to do at least for the laptops because they had to deal with the same operating systems on laptops for which IT management was already being used for a long time.

For pretty much long time, RIM provided enterprises with a solution to control the Blackberry mobile devices, enabling them to configure, manage and enforce policies on the devices.

With Apple and Android powered devices entering the consumer market with different form factors, mobility has a new face. Not just that there are a lot of devices from different vendors and operating systems, its the fact that employees are consumers first. They are pretty much demanding the use of devices of their choice for accessing enterprise resources. Moreover, people don't like to carry multiple devices : a personal device and a company owned device. They want it there - all in one.

The challenge for the IT is to support multiple mobile devices ensuring safety and security of enterprise resources. Apart from security which is central to enterprise mobility, IT demands being able to configure devices no matter what OS its running.

Being a newbie to this space, I think of a lot of questions that I'm trying to answer. With many enterprise applications emerging, is enterprise mobility management limited to managing just the devices ? What about the applications ? Do we need to control and analyse those too ? With employee owned devices is it acceptable to enforce enterprise policies all the time ? Some policies require control over the hardware as well. In my masters thesis, I explored context awareness frameworks for mobile devices and prototyped one. I was wondering if it makes sense to exploit user context for enterprise policies. This may help in selectively applying policies depending on user context. This may help develop a win-win situation where employees don't feel controlled all the time but would be able to access the required resources. (For curious reader : here is an interesting academic research project trying to identify high level contextual aspects for a mobile user.)

Have got these questions and many more.... but one thing for sure - this wave is very large, unavoidable, with a lot of challenges and comes with competitive problems for the architects and engineers to solve.

[Thank you Starbucks for the internet !]